Honoring Individual Strengths

This year, Fathom Consulting celebrates 20 years in business. In addition to happenings planned throughout the year, we’re sharing a series of blog posts to celebrate the last two decades and the years to come.

As I reflect on what has contributed to our success over the last 20 years, a few things stand out to me. One of them is that the team at Fathom is truly a team of team of learners and leaders. My colleagues are excited about exploring their professional passions and have the freedom to activate the talents that are most meaningful to them.

The associated challenge with this perk? It can be tricky to lead a group of leaders. While it’s thrilling to have team members all empowered to find their own expression of leadership, we do need to find ways to create a cohesive unit that generally moves in a shared direction.

Since joining Fathom Consulting, I’ve had the opportunity to witness, noodle on, and address a variety of organizational changes and challenges just like this one. As someone who pursued a graduate degree in Organization Development, Change Leadership and Conflict Management, tackling challenges like these is the sort of thing I get jazzed about.

And the solution I’ve arrived at for our “leading leaders” conundrum? Fostering an environment that focuses on strengths.

It starts with self-reflection

When I was in graduate school, I was introduced to the concept of “self-as-instrument.” The idea is essentially this: The only tool that any individual has to bring about change, to guide themselves or others in a direction, is themselves—their actions, behaviors, and choices. They must choose to use their skills and abilities in deliberate and thoughtful ways to guide others. In short, they must use themselves as the instrument of change. And getting good at using self-as-instrument requires complete clarity about the unique skills and abilities one most naturally and authentically possesses and can bring to bear.  Getting this clarity starts with a practice of self-reflection.

Being thoughtful and honest about what you are good at—and what you are most interested in—is something that each individual must do on their own.  Journaling, conducting self-reviews in parallel with an annual performance review, and leveraging some of the many existing tools (Clifton StrengthsFinder is one of my long-time favorites) are great places to start. Once you figure out your strengths, you can share these talents within the organization to lift everyone up.

A culture of feedback

In addition to identifying personal strengths, employees get plenty of feedback from coworkers—both formally and informally. One example of peer feedback is Fathom’s High Five program. Each team member gets a budget for the year that can be used to recognize colleagues who’ve done outstanding work. When the occasion arises, the High Fiver chooses a gift for the Hive Fivee and publicly recognizes their awesome work at the monthly all staff meeting. Another example: peer feedback is integral to annual performance reviews. Twice each year, Fathom Consultants identify a handful of others with whom they’ve worked closely in the last six months. Those colleagues are asked to respond to two simple questions: 1) What strengths has the consultant displayed and 2) How can the consultant improve to be more effective in their role? We’ve learned that often your colleagues can spot your own strengths and talents better than you can. 

Using strengths to do great work
Through self-reflection and peer feedback, we strive to uncover the unique thing each consultant brings to the party—subject matter expertise, industry experience, or skill mastery. Strengths are considered  in:

  • Performance reviews
  • Monthly all-team meetings
  • Consultant-driven internal “lunch and learn” sessions on a particular topic of interest
  • Surveys and project checkpoint discussions with clients
  • Talking about and sharing project insights with each other
  • Matching people to projects that let them play to their unique areas of strength


According to my colleague Julie Pettit, a strengths-based environment is not only rewarding, but it’s necessary to best serve clients. She says, “We have come to depend on it. If we were all uniform, we could never survive as a small business. Embracing everyone’s unique strengths allows us to be more nimble and meet a wide variety of client needs.”

Why celebrating strengths is right for us

In a society that often zeroes in on personal deficits, it’s common for organizations to approach employee development by focusing on areas of relative weakness. In fact, this is how we used to approach professional growth at Fathom. But about 10 years ago, we flipped our focus. Now, we encourage people to play to their strengths.

And you know what we’ve learned? Really good things happen when you bring people together and allow them to foster their strengths. Our employee satisfaction scores are consistently above 80 percent. Consultants work with Fathom for more than seven years on average. Fathom has repeatedly made the list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in the Twin Cities.

The individual strengths our team members possess (and continue to grow) are a tremendous asset, and I couldn’t be more thankful to have the opportunity to work with such a collection of uniquely talented individuals.